Animation is often seen as a part of the industry friendly to families and women because the longer production cycles for each feature – typically three to five years – mean more steady employment and opportunity to attend to life’s demands outside of filmmaking. But women still have a long way to go before they’re equally represented in animated features and television shows.
Statistics from the animation guild, IATSE 839, paint the picture for animators. Right now about 3,800 artists, writers and technicians work under the guild’s jurisdiction in and around Los Angeles and slightly more than 23% of this number are women. Roughly 18 months ago, around 21% were female, so the number is climbing a bit.
That’s still not fast enough for Women in Animation co-chair Marge Dean, who is working with the organization on a 50-50 by 2025 initiative that aims to see an equal split of jobs for men and women on animation productions by the year 2025. Though such animation schools as CalArts report that more than 70% of their program is made up of female students, women are still underrepresented in hiring at most studios.
“Women are pushed into producer positions or into production assistant jobs and they aren’t encouraged to become creators or storytellers,” says Dean. “We want to encourage women to become creators and animators, to do their own projects and have their own creative voice.”
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Part of the process, according to Dean and animation director Kathy McNeal, will also need to involve educating women about salary negotiations and opportunities as well as giving women access to production.
“I’ve had to become more determined to get my film into production,” says McNeal, who is in production on the animated short “Roadside Assistance,” which was deliberately staffed with a 50-50 balance of both women and men. “And I’ve encouraged the women on this project to become more confident about their ideas and be more active expressing their opinions.”
“Roadside Assistance” is being made with a small budget through the Nimble Collective platform, which is designed to provide a production pipeline for content producers. For McNeal, it provided the chance to jump-start a dream production.
WIA was launched in 1995 with the aim of helping women advance their careers in the animation industry. Recently, Walt Disney Animation came on board as the org’s first corporate sponsor, which has helped WIA continue to host a slate of events and increase its mentorship program.
In addition to their Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York chapters, there are also WIA groups in India, France, England, and Ireland. Student-based chapters can be found in Detroit, New York, Atlanta, Savannah, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Dublin, and Seoul.
On top of the 50-50 by 2025 initiative, the organization sponsors a short film program, mentorship and professional development programs, and a scholarship for animation students. Their advisory board comprises many high-profile execs from companies across the industry such as Bonnie Arnold, co-president of feature animation at DreamWorks Animation; Julia Pistor, vice president and executive producer at Mattel; and Jennifer Dodge, senior vice president of development & production for Nickelodeon preschool.
With these resources, Dean hopes to push for greater parity in hiring, as well as a chance to educate and mentor women so they can actively advocate for themselves. And filmmakers like McNeal think being in the position to hire and cultivate women animators, directors, and writers is crucial to forging a path for the next generation entering the workforce.
“I think women need to support each other and encourage each other and become each other’s mentors so we can pay our experience forward,” says McNeal, whose film is described as showing that unlikely outcomes can happen when time, effort, and collaboration are given to an idea.